Obituary: Morris Stevenson, footballer

Morton team mates training at Cappielow in 1968. From left: Bjarne Jensen, Per Bartram, Gerry Sweeney, Morris Stevenson

Morton team mates training at Cappielow in 1968. From left: Bjarne Jensen, Per Bartram, Gerry Sweeney, Morris Stevenson

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Born: 16 April, 1943, in Tranent, East Lothian. Died 22 July, 2014, aged 71

Slight of stature, two-footed and pacey, and with wonderful skills, Morris Stevenson was the archetypal Scottish ball-playing inside forward who overcame the disappointment of two free transfers to thrive as the play-maker of Morton’s fondly remembered sides of the 1960s.

Stevenson began his senior career as an “Ancell Babe”, signing for Motherwell in August 1960. First team opportunities were limited, however, and after 16 appearances and seven goals, the teenager was freed in April 1962. His last match was a 3-1 defeat to Rangers in the 1962 Scottish Cup semi-final.

Stevenson signed for Hibernian and enjoyed a fruitful 1962/63 season. Benefiting from regular first team football, he displayed his versatility, playing on both wings, and both inside forward positions.

He scored on his debut against Rangers and was given his first taste of European football, an experience he would repeat with Morton and Dundee United.

His four goals in five matches for Hibs in the Inter Cities Fairs Cup included a double in the first round 3-2 away leg victory over KB Copenhagen, and the winner in the second round home leg against Utrecht.

However, Stevenson had joined a struggling Hibs side that under Walter Galbraith would only just escape relegation. After just one season at Easter Road, Stevenson was surprisingly freed despite 33 appearances and 13 goals. History repeated itself as his last match in a Hibs’ jersey was also against Rangers.

A second free transfer in as many seasons could have been a crushing blow for a young player just turned 20, however an unlikely savour by the name of Hal Stewart rescued Stevenson by making him part of the minor miracle he was masterminding at Morton.

Stevenson became a vital cog in the resurgence of a club that had finished bottom of the old Second Division just two years previously.

Fifty years on, Morton fans can still recite the names of the revered forward line of Bobby Adamson, Stevenson, Joe Caven, Allan McGraw, and Jimmy Wilson awe. If McGraw reached near mythic status as the brave and prolific goal-grabber of the side, then Stevenson was equally loved by the aficionados in the Morton support in his six seasons at Cappielow.

Never a prolific goal-scorer, Stevenson fashioned scores of goals for McGraw and his fellow forwards. McGraw and other Morton team-mates like Hugh Strachan and Joe Mason all held the same opinion of Stevenson – “a lovely man and a lovely footballer who was a joy to play with”. Allan McGraw has often said that without Stevenson, he wouldn’t have scored the amount of goals that he did for Morton.

Often subject to some robust tackling, Stevenson would use his pace and ball skills to cruise past opponents. However, like many players of his ilk who loved to dribble, he would sometimes frustrate his team-mates by holding on to the ball for too long, trying to beat just one more player instead of passing.

However, when it all came together, the results could be glorious, like his goal against Third Lanark in 1966 when Stevenson scored from an almost impossible angle after beating five opponents.

In his first season at Morton Stevenson was part of the all-conquering side that won the 1963/4 second division with the loss of just one match, scoring 135 goals in the process. (Morris won another second division championship with Morton in 1967.)

He greatest displays came in the League Cup, however, as they went all the way to the final against Rangers. The defeats of his former clubs, first division Motherwell and Hibernian in the quarter-final and semi-finals respectively must have been particularly satisfying and redemptive for Stevenson.

The League Cup Final against Rangers was lost 5-0, with Stevenson played out of position at centre forward, and there was more disappointment during his time at Cappielow as he played in a further two League Cup semi-finals and a Scottish Cup semi-final, losing them all.

After five years at Cappielow and 215 appearances and 32 goals, Stevenson expressed a desire to try English football and his wish was granted with a £5,000 move to third division Luton Town in October 1968.

He spent an unhappy, injury laden time with the third division club, managing just one first team appearance and he returned north in February 1970 as one of Jerry Kerr’s last signings at Dundee United.

He spent three seasons at United playing 40 matches and then saw out the remainder of his career with a dozen matches for Berwick Rangers.

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